I had put on my coat to leave the gym and was finishing a conversation with other victims of good health and rigorous exercise, when I caught sight of myself in a full length mirror. Who was that man staring back at me? When did I ever get to be so big? How did I come to look so deceptively grown up and respectable? Aware of the possibility of looking vain (a weakness of mine I confess) I looked away and rejoined the conversation, having gained an insight into what my interlocutors saw. In my head I don't see myself according to my outward appearance. The child is too much with me still.
One of the things I like about the now sadly missed comedy series Last of the Summer Wine is it's portrayal of three old men wandering about the Yorkshire countryside acting like boys. Look carefully and you see one man's pomposity as simply a grown-up role being played by a boy hiding behind a disguise of 'respectability', another man's willing resignation to the truth that they are all big kids, and a third man's wonder at and fascination with it all. Officialdom, iconoclasm, and philosophy out for an afternoon stroll.
I find it fascinating and bewildering in equal measure. The problem is, I can't take it all seriously enough to play 'respectable' bordering on ridiculous like the first man, I am yet a little too serious-minded to resign to the childishness of it all like the second, so I am left like the third, to wonder at it, fascinated by my ability to see everyone still in their juvenile greenery, their schooldays, wondering what it's all about.
I see the teachers' pet, I see the thinker who will enjoy quizzes and teach maths, the misfit who only shone on the rugby field, or in the carpentry shop, the prefect, the sensible one who will end up working in a bank, or a chemist's, the adventurous one who will travel and fill their life with memories, the timid one who will work a job, save money, and wear beige, the one who will surprise us all and become a successful writer.
Though old now, I see them in the classroom and school yard still. I find myself looking for, and am often rewarded with that sly, watchful eye that glances to see if they've been found out, the big kid in the bank queue, the little boy at the supermarket checkout, the little girl at her office desk, the class clown in the pub, holding a pint and incredulous that he is up so late and drinking beer. I have found them out. I have found you all out. I see the child in us all.